Businesswomen Lead the Pack in 2010 Elections

Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Linda McMahon are just three of the women shaking things up this cycle.

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"I'm Linda McMahon and I approved this ad because it's time for something different."

The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, the theatrical stage for street brawls that enthrall much of America, McMahon is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd, who is retiring. Battling through a Republican primary against former Rep. Rob Simmons and facing a general election contest against a longtime Democratic favorite, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, she makes no apology for her unusual resume. "I may have to set up a ring in the Senate chamber and lay the smackdown on them," she often tells voters to cheers and applause.

In the past, most women candidates worked their way laboriously up the political ladder, beginning in the back rooms of campaign offices addressing envelopes or answering the phones, running for the local school board or city council. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's first job in politics was as an intern for a U.S. senator from Maryland. [See information on Pelosi's campaign financing.] But McMahon is one of a vanguard group of powerful businesswomen who excelled in corporate America. Now, they present themselves in the political arena just at a time when voters are desperate for jobs and pining for change. Not since writer Claire Booth Luce and actress Helen Gahagan Douglas served in Congress together in the 1940s has there been such star power on the hustings.

Pundits proclaimed 1992 the Year of the Woman in politics. But for much of Senate history, it really was a good old boy's club. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland were the only two women serving in the Senate in 1991. By 1992, they were joined by four others, all Democrats: Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, and Patty Murray of Washington. A year later, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison joined the club, winning a special election in Texas as more glass shattered to the Senate floor. If 1992 was the Year of the Woman, 2010 could be the Year of the Woman Outsider.

The GOP has a lot of hopefuls. Meg Whitman, running for governor in California, is the former CEO of eBay, a Fortune 500 company that she grew from a $4 million, 30-person shop to an international dot-com powerhouse. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, once named the most powerful woman in American business, hopes to challenge liberal icon Boxer in what could be an all-female Senate race in California. Michele Rollins, a former Miss USA with a law degree from Georgetown University and a business perch running a luxury vacation resort, has just declared for Delaware's only House seat. On the Democratic side, Diane Denish, who ran a small business in Albuquerque before becoming lieutenant governor of New Mexico, is now running for the state's top job. Rosa Scarcelli, running for governor of Maine, is CEO of Stanford Management, a low-cost housing provider. And Alex Sink, an executive at Bank of America before becoming Florida's chief financial officer, is now working to become the state's first female governor. "This is a new generation, a new animal," says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. "They are savvy, successful women in their own right, who don't seem to spend a lot of time thinking about social issues." [See a slide show of the women of the senate.]

What they are talking about is business, how to run it, how to grow it, and how to create jobs and steer federal policy toward fiscal sanity. With millions of Americans still out of work or losing their homes to foreclosure, Tea Party activists clamoring for an end to government spending, and voters regularly shouting down professional politicians, this is the Year of the Outsider. And you can't get much further outside the good old boy's club than to be a high-powered business executive who happens to be a woman. "I know where jobs come from," Fiorina says. "I've met a payroll, I've balanced a budget, I've cut expenditures. When people are worried about cutting spending, my experience resonates."